Annual Report of the Institute for Polish–Jewish Studies

for the year 2010–2011


Jonathan Webber


The Institute for Polish–Jewish Studies, an associated institute of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, this year published volume 23 of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry. This volume, edited by Michał Galas and Antony Polonsky, was devoted to the subject of ‘Jews in Kraków’. Few Polish cities have evoked more affection from their Jewish inhabitants than Kraków, and this volume brings together 23 essays by scholars from Israel, Poland, the UK, and the USA to explore how this relationship evolved. Considering Jewish life in the city from a wide range of social and cultural perspectives, primarily in the last two centuries, the contributors present a fascinating detailed panorama to explain why Kraków had this special status in Polish Jewish history. An additional perspective is provided by a consideration of how Jewish life in Kraków has been remembered by Holocaust survivors and how it is portrayed in post-war Polish literature. The volume, nearly 600 pages long, also includes four papers on other subjects in Polish–Jewish studies as well as an obituary of the political commentator and Yiddishist Abe Brumberg.

In December a two-day international conference convened by Prof. Antony Polonsky and Prof. Jonathan Webber was held to launch the volume, disseminate its chief findings, and to open up discussion on the Jews of Kraków. The first day of the conference, which was held at the London Jewish Cultural Centre in Golders Green, was devoted to recent times (from the Holocaust to the present); and the second day, at the Polish Embassy, where the proceedings were formally opened by the ambassador, H.E. Barbara Tuge-Erecińska, was on the theme ‘The Jewish Love-Affair with Kraków over the Centuries’. Sponsorship was generously provided by the Polish Cultural Institute and the Polish Embassy, together with the American Association for Polish–Jewish Studies. Over the two days there were 15 presentations by speakers from Canada, Israel, Poland, the UK, and the USA, including two museum directors from Kraków, the chief rabbi of Kraków, and the head of the Jagiellonian University’s new Centre for the Study of the History and Culture of Kraków Jews, along with a number of other university-based scholars from Kraków, Warsaw, and elsewhere.  The conference included the screening of two relevant films: Lipowa 4: Life and Work in Oskar Schindler’s Factory, a new Polish film based on eyewitness accounts and archival materials relating to the enamelware factory made famous by Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. The other film screening was of Oren Rudavsky’s remarkable 1986 film Spark among the Ashes: A Bar Mitzvah in Poland, a documentary focusing on the clash between tradition and modernity when an American Jewish boy came specially to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah among the Holocaust survivors of Kraków, accompanied by a woman rabbi to conduct the ceremony. For the first time the Institute’s annual Polin launch conference was held over two days rather than just one; it was very successful, full to capacity, and attracted lively discussion.

During the year the Adam Mickiewicz Institute in Warsaw published the proceedings of the conference ‘Poland: A Jewish Matter’ that had been co-organized by the Institute at the Jewish Museum in London in May 2010.

In May 2011 by Professor Shimon Redlich of Ben-Gurion University gave a lecture on the occasion of the publication of his latest book Life in Transit: Jews in Postwar Łódź, 1945–50. The lecture was followed by an extended discussion, moderated by Professor Antony Polonsky, and the screening of Unzere Kinder (1948), the last Yiddish-language film ever to be made in Poland. The event, organized in co-operation with the Institute of Jewish Studies at University College London, drew a capacity audience of over 150 people—bringing about additional screenings of Unzere Kinder later in the year.